Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
South Florida should be very proud. In any other year, Thom Paine, The Clean House, 9 Parts of Desire, or The Fourth Wall would have all been shoe-ins for Best Play. Alas, this was a year of staggering theater, and no show was quite so staggering as Doubt, probably the best play John Patrick Shanley ever wrote. Caldwell Theatre gave it the cast it deserved, and people filing out of the theater were heard to wonder aloud not only about the play's real meaning but about the purpose of theater in general. This year's other great plays were moving or scary or funny, but Doubt made you doubt — not just what happened in the show, but how certain you can be of anything. Shanley's script follows an old-school nun as she seeks to discover whether or not her parish priest is molesting a young pupil. At times you believe that he isn't, that he is, that he might be — and, in a few weird moments of cognitive dissonance, you believe all of these things at the same time. If peeling away our easy grasp on fact versus fiction isn't the greatest thing a show can do, we don't know what is.
Todd Allen Durkin is one crazy motherfucker, or at least he plays one on stage. He'll play anything but sane, a quirk that has rarely served him as well as it did in Will Eno's Thom Paine. Thom Paine is a one-man show in which the protagonist makes no sense whatsoever: he begins stories without finishing them, tells jokes without punchlines, and seems at all times ready to explode from ghastly internal pressure. The man wants to explain himself, to somehow rationalize his existence and explain away his foibles and let us know that he's really an OK guy. But in Durkin's hands, Thom didn't seem quite certain that the audience was willing to hear what he had to say; even his most lighthearted moments were shot through with intimations of impending doom, collapse, and failure. Thom could make us laugh, but he never laughed himself — his whole incoherent spiel was a tortured scream against alienation, and alienation isn't that funny. It's also seldom so painfully articulated in theater, and seldom so keenly felt by audiences at the moment of performance (so much so that several shows drew hecklers and sparked walkouts — some planted, many not). It was all so intense that you wondered, however briefly, if the event you were witnessing might transcend the stage and somehow magically cure the very malaise the playwright meant to address. It didn't, of course — the people departing Mosaic Theatre on those nights last summer were probably just as alienated and forlorn as the ones who'd arrived two hours earlier — but that wasn't Thom's failure, or Todd's. It was our own. We should just be glad they helped us realize it.
If New Times has talked too much about Pilar Uribe's year-old performance in Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire, that's only because we haven't yet found anything better to talk about. The past year has seen the woman take on a more diverse and challenging array of roles than anybody in the state: she's been a neurotic talent agent, a stately professor who has both wronged her husband and been wronged by her paramour, a mother whose children were burned alive, an old beggar woman, a young girl who misses her dead father, a painter-cum-prostitute, a doctor horrified by a sudden glut of deformed babies showing up in her maternity ward, a Johnny Walker-swilling revolutionary forecasting doom for everybody, an American 20-something fearful for her relatives in a war-torn country overseas, a fat Bedouin, and a crazy street vendor. All but two of these roles came in 9 Parts, a one-woman show in which Uribe incarnated an array of diverse Iraqi women. Uribe's uncanny shapeshifting combined with the horrors in the women's stories made for a play that didn't seem quite real. One can't really believe that a woman working with few props besides a shawl could conjure a whole country in Mosaic's small auditorium, or that she could scare you as badly as she did. For all we know, the Latin American Uribe has no stake in our country's current war. But she made us feel ours.
There could have easily been a drop-off after his amazing 2005 solo debut, Needle Bed, but Lake Worth native John Ralston never succumbed to a sophomore slump. Instead, Ralston got to work immediately on what would become Sorry, Vampire, pairing up with ex-Wilco keyboardist/engineer Jay Bennett and even enlisting the vocal talents of fellow South Floridian Tim Yehezkely of the 2007 Best Album-winning the Postmarks. The result is a beautiful, endearing album that only gets better with each listen. Vampire is Ralston's dollhouse — a winding, orchestral journey through the talented songwriter's psyche, powered by a staggering array of instrumentation and layering. From the angst-ey drive of "Fragile" to the potent imagery of "When I Was a Bandage" (Little bits of cloud, go on and bite your lip/I was just a bandage when you lost your tourniquet), each track feels dense and full of detailed mystery, the aural equivalent of a Wes Anderson film. Ralston might be Florida's best songwriter. And if Vampire is any indication, he's only getting better.
Location may not be everything, but if you're an art gallery, you could do a lot worse than to be located at Gallery Center, Boca Raton's high-end mini-mall of seven individual galleries housed under one roof. On the down side, your competition is right next door. On the up side, anyone who wanders through the spacious Gallery Center complex is already likely to have art on the brain and thus be willing (and able) to shell out the equivalent of a year's salary for a prime work by a major artist. And if you're Habatat Galleries, there's the additional bonus of being the premier glass gallery in the entire region. The Boca outpost is part of a four-gallery chain that opened in Michigan in 1971 and has been focusing exclusively on glass since 1980. Along with hosting its own shows by such glass-world luminaries as Dale Chihuly, William Morris, and Dan Dailey, Habatat also curates exhibitions for museums and other institutions and offers a full line of consulting services for both experienced and novice collectors. Throw in the fact that Habatat recently presented the blown-glass orchids of Debora Moore — one of the best small shows of the season — and you've got a gallery that's first class in every regard.
At first it seemed too good to be true — an artist the caliber of Enrique Martínez Celaya setting up shop in South Florida. Then settle he did, and not in Miami or South Beach or even Palm Beach, either, but in Delray Beach, of all places. The Cuban-born exile bought a residence and built a studio there, then got busy producing the kind of work that has made him a top-tier name in art centers all over the world. His spectacular studio complex quickly became a magnet for collectors, curators, writers, other artists, and especially the Art Basel Miami Beach crowd, which trekked up by the busload. It seemed that Martínez Celaya was on his way to achieving his dream of establishing an artists colony in Delray. But the city turned on him, putting paperwork and zoning obstacles in his way, and the romance soured, sending the artist and his family to Southern California. Martínez Celaya still maintains South Florida connections — at the Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale and the Miami Museum of Art, in particular — but gone are the days when he called the place home.